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Latest Medical Breakthrough: Light-Activated Drugs Released Through Red Blood Cells

Update Date: Jan 07, 2017 10:12 AM EST
Light-Activated Drugs Released Through Red Blood Cells
A new medical technique uses light to activate and release drugs stored in red blood cells. (Photo : Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

The latest medical breakthrough involves light-activated drugs released through red blood cells. The technique not only sounds cool but also revolutionizes drug delivery. This means that drugs can be delivered specifically at the right time and at the right site where the disease is concentrated.

Developed under the leadership of Professor David Lawrence of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, the latest drug delivery technique involves releasing drugs stored in red blood cells by literally shining a light on the specific site of sickness. This latest medical breakthrough could dramatically reduce the amount of needed drugs to treat a disease but also reduces its side effects.

Professor Lawrence and his team attached a drug molecule to vitamin B12, which was then stored into red blood cells. The red blood cells carrying the compound circulate through the body for four months and can be activated on the specific site where the ailment is by using light. 

The biggest obstacle for the research team was to figure out how long wavelength light can be used to sever the molecule bond between the drug molecule from vitamin B12. The problem with long wavelength light is that it can penetrate deeper into the body but does not have enough energy to sever molecule bonds, unlike short wavelength light.

To solve this hurdle, the team introduced a weak energy bond between the drug compound and vitamin B12. Attached to the weak energy bond is a fluorescent cell that acts as an antenna that will capture the long wavelength light. When the fluorescent cell captures the long wavelength light, it uses the light to sever the weak energy bond between the drug compound and vitamin B12 thus releasing the drug on site.

Published in Angewandte Chemie, the study aims to provide better and more efficient drug delivery. This latest medical technique also reduces possible drug side effects as it is activated only on the site where it is needed the most. Professor Lawrence adds, "Those benefits could include avoiding surgery and the risk of infection, making anesthesia unnecessary and allowing people to treat themselves by shining a light on a problem area, such as an arthritic knee."

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